Speech to the Fijian Press Club Lunch

  • Speech, E&OE

Well good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, and it's my great pleasure to be here this afternoon.

To distinguished members of the diplomatic corps, particularly Australia's High Commissioner to Fiji, His Excellency John Feakes, to our friends from our very close partners and neighbors, your Excellencies from Papua New Guinea and Indonesia and very many distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I am absolutely delighted that my first overseas visit since being sworn in, in very cold Canberra last Wednesday morning, is to Fiji.

For a range of reasons, not the least of which is: it doesn't require very much encouragement to get me to come back to Fiji.

It is certainly not my first time here, but it is my first time here as Australia's Foreign Minister, and Minister for Women. I was most recently here prior to that, as Australia's Minister for Defence.

And I do want to thank the Fijian Media Association for hosting us today in a setting that reminds me of our National Press Club in Canberra.

Not every politician who goes into that comes out alive, so for diplomatic purposes, and to ensure the continuation of the Australia-Fiji relationship, at least I should come out alive. I think that should be the bottom line we draw today.

As far as the media and politicians are concerned, I think that we bring different, and differently valuable perspectives to what we do. And as a long term member of the parliament in Australia, I can attest that journalists perform a vital role in society.

I know the Fijian Media Association, ably led by Nemani, is doing important work also developing the next generation of journalists and reporters here in Fiji , and I am very pleased that apparently some are able to be with us here today.

The last occasion that I was here was in 2017, as I said as Defence Minister and the traditional welcome I received that day was particularly full of dignity and heart.

It was a symbol of the close relationship between our two countries, which is one of partners, and neighbors, and family.

And late last year, my Prime Minister - Prime Minister Morrison - announced a new chapter in Australia's relations with the countries that make up the great, blue continent that is the Pacific.

We would "step up" our engagement in the region and take it to a new level by putting it front and center, the Pacific front and center of our foreign policy.

Which is where it should be.

The Pacific is Australia's home.

Our histories and our cultures are deeply intertwined.

Our communities have long enjoyed meaningful connections.

We share ambitions and hopes for the region's future.

And when Prime Minister Morrison was here in January, he made the point that to "step up", you have to "show up".

That is exactly what we are doing – right across the Pacific. On Monday the Prime Minister and our new Minister for the Pacific and International Development, were in the Solomon Islands, and I am here this week. I am seeking to visit our new friends in government in Papua New Guinea in coming weeks, and the Prime Minister will be attending the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders meeting in Tuvalu in August.

One of the things I want to talk about today is Australia's delivery on the commitments that the Prime Minister announced.

And I want to talk about how those commitments – across security, across economic development, and the links between our people – go to the heart of realising our shared vision for a region that is secure strategically and stable economically.

And when Australia looks at Fiji, we see a valuable partner in this work.

So much so that in January, our two prime ministers agreed to formally enhance our bilateral cooperation through the Fiji-Australia Vuvale Partnership, strengthening our bond, embracing new opportunities and dealing with common challenges together where we can.

This, ladies and gentlemen, to be very clear, is a one-of-a-kind agreement. Unique to our two nations, because, by way of Vuvale, we are family.

The agreement is a way of building on a very solid base to identify new areas to expand our relationship.

It will broaden the valuable work that we already do together in defence, in policing and in border security.

It will identify new opportunities in trade and investment.

And it will help to nurture those vital personal connections between our schools, our churches and community groups. Fundamentally, the connections between our people.

I am pleased to say that officials from both our countries, who do all the hard work after the prime ministers have made such an agreement, are working on the agreement itself, they're on track to mark its finalisation and its signing when Prime Minister Bainimarama visits Australia later this year. And we look very much forward to welcoming him as guest of government.

At a time when uncertainty most definitely permeates the global economy, Australia is also working with our partners in the Pacific to support the sustainable economic development that is the engine for growth, in jobs, wealth and quality of life.

One of the ways we are doing this in Australia is through our Pacific Labour Scheme.

It is a program which we think, and which we believe, is a genuine win-win partnership.

It gives people the opportunity to come to Australia to work for up to three years while developing skills that they ultimately take home, building experience, and sending funds back to their own families and communities.

Australian businesses are able to fill jobs that were previously empty because of labour shortages in regional and rural parts of our country.

I was very pleased to sign the Memorandum of Understanding that heralded Fiji joining the Pacific Labour Scheme with your High Commissioner to Australia, just two months ago this week in Canberra.

And this morning I had the pleasure of meeting some of the young Fijians who will be among the first to take part in this scheme, and some who had also already been working in Australia in other contexts and who shared their experiences.

Improving labour mobility is not the only way though that we are working with Fiji to lift our shared prosperity.

Fiji and Australia are both very fortunate to have enjoyed sustained economic growth in recent years.

Two-way trade in goods and services totaled more than $2 billion in the year to July 20181.

But I think it is important to remind ourselves that we can't be complacent – there are challenges ahead for the global economy.

And with this in mind, we have started work on a joint trade and economic scoping study that will look at ways we can create more opportunities for Australian and Fijian businesses.

That work began literally last week and is going to be finalised by the end of July. I very much look forward to the findings of the independent team that will shortly be in Fiji to engage with government and the business community.

Of course, infrastructure is another essential ingredient of any economic success story.

Infrastructure that is well-planned, well-built and well-maintained can boost sustainable growth, enhance economic integration and, put simply: make people's lives easier.

We are actively considering projects in Fiji for support through our soon-to-be-established Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific, which will provide $2 billion for initiatives, particularly in the energy, transport, water and telecommunications sectors; with climate resilience in-built.

Another element of our Pacific Step Up builds on our long history of defence, police and security cooperation.

My first visit to Blackrock Camp in 2017 left me with a very strong impression - a lasting impression - of Fiji's ambition and sense of duty as a nation of peacekeepers and humanitarian responders.

Australia is very pleased to support Fiji's development of the facility into a state-of-the-art, environmentally sustainable institution that will be a world-class centre of learning for peacekeepers and police from around the region, and will allow Fijians to continue their very strong tradition of peacekeeping service in some of the world's toughest operations.

I've seen Fijian Peacekeepers at work over the years, in a range of countries, and I can certainly attest to that tradition of service.

Since Prime Minister Morrison and Minister Seruiratu broke ground on the Blackrock facility in January, we have made steady progress on the redevelopment. And as Nemani alluded to, I was there yesterday, I was very impressed, by how closely the Fijian and Australian soldiers and civilians were working together to deliver this project.

As part of our commitment to training and capacity-building, we have also agreed to deliver a comprehensive border security package to help further strengthen the integrity of Fiji's borders.

We know that porous borders across the Pacific contribute, in part, to transnational crime, to lack of ability to readily identify those security challenges where they occur. So I think for all of us, integrity of borders and border security is a very important aspect of government's operation.

Our package will support the work of the Fiji Revenue and Customs Service, the Police Force and the Department of Immigration, and help equip officials with the tools to keep Fijians safe.

Work is also continuing on the construction of the new Guardian-class patrol boats, which Fiji will receive under our Pacific Maritime Security Program.

This is a new generation of vessel which will support the work of island nations in combating a range of maritime security issues, from transnational crime to illegal fishing.

On the subject of the Pacific Maritime Security Program: it is the successor to the program which provided Pacific Patrol boats to countries in the region decades ago. This is a long story. It is a story of shared commitment to regional security. And we will reinforce it with our new Pacific Maritime Security Program.

Because one of the best ways that we stand a strong chance of addressing regional problems like these is when we support one another.

And the same is true of the more complex global challenges.

In Australia's 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper, we also identified climate change as a potential disruptor of political, economic and security environments over the long term.

Nowhere is this felt more than in the Pacific.

As the Boe Declaration of 2018 stated in its statements on regional security following the Pacific Island Forum in Nauru.

Climate change represents the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of Pacific peoples.

Pacific countries' advocacy has been instrumental in raising global ambition to act to address extreme weather, sea-level rise and environmental degradation.

And I particularly want to acknowledge Fiji's leadership - the leadership of Prime Minister Bainimarama, Foreign Minister Seruiratu's leadership - on this issue.

Fiji's Presidency of COP23 helped to pave the way for the agreement that was reached in Poland in December at COP24, giving the international community a framework, a rule book, to bring the Paris Agreement to life.

Fiji's leadership of the Climate Action Pacific Partnership over the past three years, which Australia has been pleased to support, has played an important role in highlighting the special challenges and needs of the region and ensuring that the Pacific voice is heard on these issues.

For Australia's part, we are on track to meet – indeed to exceed – our commitments to the year 2020 under the Paris Agreement, and making progress towards our 2030 target.

At the same time, we are supporting our Pacific family's own efforts to respond to climate change and to build disaster resilience.

In the region, we have already delivered two-thirds of our $300 million assistance package in the Pacific.

This is part of the $1 billion that Australia is committed to spending over five years on climate change in developing countries.

Because we do recognise that global challenges need global solutions.

Closer to home, it is often the strong ties between our communities that underpin Australia's partnerships and it is no different in our partnership with Fiji.

Our people love visiting one another's countries, and those connections run very deep.

We see them in our sporting teams – as we've been talking about at lunch today - and in our faith communities.

We see them in the 98,000 strong Fijian diaspora in Australia.

I live in Western Sydney. I am surrounded by the Fijian diaspora every day - when I go to work, when I go out. It is part of that part of Australia.

And we are strengthening those bonds by expanding on initiatives that enable us to bring people together.

Fiji is one of seven Pacific countries which is included in the BRIDGE School partnerships program for teachers' professional development.

And our New Colombo Plan – an initiative of my predecessor and friend Julie Bishop of which we are both very proud – is creating a new generation of Australian leaders with a deep understanding of the Indo-Pacific.

Over the past five years the New Colombo Plan has awarded more than 4,000 scholarship and mobility grants for Australian undergraduates to undertake study and work placements in the Pacific.

Now it might not be any surprise to you, that Fiji is the most popular Pacific destination amongst students, around one third of those students have undertaken their placements here.

The prestigious Australia Awards scholarship program continues to offer emerging leaders an opportunity to study in Australia and the region.

We currently have more than 600 Australia Awards scholars from the Pacific studying at Australian institutions, over 100 of whom are from Fiji, and many more studying at Pacific institutions with the Australia Awards Pacific Scholarships2.

Then of course, there is our shared passion for all things sporting, which sees us battle it out on the field or the court from time to time – here, in Australia and around the world.

And I need to mention it before anyone else does, like last week when Fiji beat Australia and all other comers in the Rugby Worlds Sevens and claimed the title. Congratulations.

I look forward to the Rugby League Pacific Test Invitational matches in Sydney later this month, where the Bati3 will take on Lebanon and the Bulikula4 will make their international debut against Papua New Guinea.

After lunch today I am travelling to your ANZ stadium to open the Fiji vs Tonga men's rugby league match and to meet your women's team.

We also have coming up of course, the first ever Rugby League Prime Minister's XIII men's and women's matches to be played in Suva later this year.

And I absolutely acknowledge the leadership of the National Rugby League in Australia in bringing that about – and the leadership of our two governments in supporting it.

As part of my visit this week, I am very pleased to announce a new aspect to our sports connections.

Under our growing sports linkages work, Australia is going to establish an elite sports training initiative to assist selected Fiji athletes to prepare in Australia for their major international events.

We want to see the nationwide elation at the Fiji Sevens' gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics repeated across sports and across communities.

So friends and colleagues, your Excellencies, whether it is in defence, business, schooling, churches, or sport, we have a lot to look forward to as our Pacific Step Up grows and grows.

We are building on our shared interests and values. We are strengthening our cooperation across those key fields of defence and security, trade and investment and the ties that bind our communities.

In everything that I have done, every meeting that I have been in, and event I have attended in the past day and a half; they are the messages that have been reinforced to me; they are the messages that have resonated.

And it is those very practical steps that will shape the future that we all want for our blue continent – one that is secure, and stable, and peaceful, and prosperous.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to say a few words this afternoon, and I look forward to taking some of your questions.

1. Two-way trade in goods and services totaled $2.09 billion in 2017-18.

2. More than 370 Pacific scholars, including 45 Fijians, are studying at Pacific institutions with the Australia Awards Pacific Scholarships.

3. Fiji men's rugby league team.

4. Fiji women's rugby league team.

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